What to watch for next year in automation

In this installment of Automation Zone, interconnectivity, wireless, mobility, digital sensors, and smart MRO lead the way.

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For this year-end edition of Automation Zone, the Plant Services editors asked several industry professionals a simple question: What automation trend should MRO teams keep their eye on in 2017, and why?

Jose M. Rivera, CEO, CSIA (Control System Integrators Association)

Interconnectivity will continue to be the main automation trend impacting MRO. Here is why:

  1. Interconnectivity is not only bridging diverse systems – it is also forcing a closer collaboration between departments. There is significant value in sharing predictive maintenance requests with the production teams, as it empowers them to schedule a shutdown with the minimum impact on productivity.
  2. Interconnectivity also means that information is inputted once and leveraged. This includes information captured in the field by service technicians. New systems are making the data acquisition and data download process very easy. This translates into higher utilization and better data to drive decisions.
  3. Interconnectivity will allow technology to bridge the loss of expertise and experience from the retiring baby boomer generation with the abilities of the “digitally native” younger generations.

Scott Kortier, InduSoft web studio senior technical engineer at Wonderware by Schneider Electric

Mobile access to machine interfaces will play a critical role for maintenance and reliability teams. Not only does a fully mobile remote HMI make it possible to troubleshoot, diagnose, and service machines from anywhere in the plant, it also allows OEMs and value-added resellers to offer more capabilities for maintenance as a service (MaaS) from remote locations. Better mobility allows maintenance operators to run updates outside of business hours and allows operators to request remote assistance from maintenance personnel at another plant.

We also expect to see Andon applications going into wider use in manufacturing beyond the automobile industry. (Andon is a visual system designed to notify management, maintenance or other workers of a quality or process problem.) These Andon solutions offer best practices for getting the right team to the right location quickly in order to solve maintenance and reliability issues. With plug-and-play Andon templates available, there’s no reason not to implement these types of solutions in manufacturing.

Bob Karschnia, VP and general manager of wireless, Emerson Process Management

Wireless monitoring of plant equipment and instrumentation will be a major trend in 2017. Wireless applications give the right information to the right person at the right time. For example, wireless monitoring of steam traps or pump health gives a maintenance technician insight into the problem before going into the plant. He or she will “know before they go.”

Wireless monitoring is growing exponentially. Emerson has installed more than 27,000 WirelessHART networks. Battery-powered wireless devices can be installed anywhere to monitor anything—especially on equipment where the cost of installing wired devices is cost-prohibitive. And, because WirelessHART provides access to all the diagnostic and status conditions available in HART instrumentation, plant engineers and technicians are now able to detect pending problems before they become serious enough to shut down a process.

Michael Risse, vice president at Seeq

The locomotive pulling all other trends is commercial off the shelf technology, and the locomotive’s engine is Moore’s Law; this is not just about doubling the density of transistors on a chip every 18 months. Instead, it’s the basis of a new model for computing hardware, software, and networking.

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